Written by Rakefet Cohen / Faunalytics
The more capable people are of taking a moment to reflect on their actions, the more likely they are to have a sense of meaning in life and to react to nature in a positive way.
Mindfulness is defined as awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose in the present moment in a non-judgmental way. With roots in Buddhist philosophy, it is the self-regulation of attention, as well as an openness and acceptance for all emerging inner experiences. The practice of mindfulness can include activities like meditation, but it’s also come to include a variety of things that people can practice as they move through the world.
Empirical evidence has shown correlations between mindfulness and ecological behavior, pointing out the potential of mindfulness to support changes in behavior toward greater sustainability as well as building intrinsic values and empathy towards other living creatures.
Mindfulness includes five dimensions, as related to environmentalism:
- Observing – the conscious experience of inner and outer stimuli such as sensations, cognitions, emotions, sights, sounds, and smells. This can strengthen sensitization for nature and increase the significance of alternative information and consumer behaviors.
- Nonreactivity – the ability to allow thoughts and feelings to come and go, without getting caught up in or carried away by them. This can help regulate and resist temptation and impulsive behavior.
- Acting with awareness – full attention and conscious behavior, including leaving the “automatic pilot”. This includes a requirement for self-knowledge and reflecting on life goals, and is positively linked to environmentalism.
- Non-judging – to take a non-evaluative stance towards thoughts and feelings. This supports the active integration of experiences at a cognitive level, and can be a barrier for environmentalism because it might lower the activation of personal norms.
- Describing – the ability to label internal experiences with words. This is crucial to putting experiences into a coherent frame of meaning, and is positively linked to environmentalism.
Some claim mindfulness has the greatest potential for transcending the self-centered focus in one’s behavior as a result of the conscious perception of one’s own feelings and needs. From there, the perspective is then widened to take into account the feelings and needs of other people and other living beings.
One study set out to test the relationship between mindfulness, meaning construction, and ecological attitudes, with the hope of attaining a final key result – sustainable food consumption. A total of 375 people participated via a standardized online survey, which included questions regarding mindfulness (observing, nonreactivity, acting with awareness, non-judging and describing), the construction of meaning, sustainability-related contents of meaning, personal norms and sustainable food consumption. The researchers concentrated on two different aspects in their measure of sustainability and food: organic, regional, and seasonal food, and vegetarian food.
What they found was that, although acting with awareness wasn’t found to be correlated specifically to veg*nism, acting with awareness was the only mindfulness property connected to sustainability actions. This can be explained by the fact that veg*nism is more strongly influenced by moral norms regarding animal welfare than by ecological norms.
Overall, when people stated that they notice sensation like smells and aromas, and that they’re good at finding words to describe their feelings, they found more meaning in life in general, as well as more meaning drawn from sustainability specifically.
Nonreactive people were likely to say that when they have distressing thoughts or see distressing images, they become calm soon after, notice and let them go without reacting, and don’t let themselves be carried away by them. These same people were also more likely to say that they feel personally obligated to buy sustainable food products as often as they can. It makes sense intuitively, since the ability to resist feelings evoked by commercials, marketing, and your own appetite does enable you to resist unhealthy or unsustainable temptations.
What’s more relevant and specific is that nonreactivity seems to relate to veg*nism while meaning is the missing link between them. Although the cause and the effect are unclear, when people develop the habit to stop and think rather than simply act upon their impulses, they develop a sense of greater purpose to life. When they experience a greater purpose, they’re more likely to go veg*n. This is why mindfulness practice is such a powerful tool for veg*n education. It helps practitioners pause for a moment before doing something they may morally regret.
For animal advocates, these studies, and many others like them, show ways that mindfulness practitioners might be good allies, and how mindfulness practice may help to encourage better consumption habits. Does mindfulness provide people a sense of meaning, which makes them more environmentally conscious? Are people who are more receptive to mindfulness in the first place also more receptive to sustainability? The answers are still not certain, but the questions are worth posing.
What these studies do tell us is that the more connected to their senses people are, and the more capable of taking a moment to reflect on their actions they are, the more likely they are to have a sense of meaning in life and to react to nature rather than to passing whims of appetite and taste. Mindfulness-based interventions are abundant – both in “the real world” (known as MBSR and MBCT) and now, on our cell phones (see examples: 1, 2, 3). Bringing mindfulness interventions into our advocacy could help to provide us with surprising future directions.